Testing pancreatic islet function at the single cell level by calcium influx with associated marker expression

PLoS One. 2015 Apr 8;10(4):e0122044. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0122044. eCollection 2015.


Studying the response of islet cells to glucose stimulation is important for understanding cell function in healthy and disease states. Most functional assays are performed on whole islets or cell populations, resulting in averaged observations and loss of information at the single cell level. We demonstrate methods to examine calcium fluxing in individual cells of intact islets in response to multiple glucose challenges. Wild-type mouse islets predominantly contained cells that responded to three (out of three) sequential high glucose challenges, whereas cells of diabetic islets (db/db or NOD) responded less frequently or not at all. Imaged islets were also immunostained for endocrine markers to associate the calcium flux profile of individual cells with gene expression. Wild-type mouse islet cells that robustly fluxed calcium expressed β cell markers (INS/NKX6.1), whereas islet cells that inversely fluxed at low glucose expressed α cell markers (GCG). Diabetic mouse islets showed a higher proportion of dysfunctional β cells that responded poorly to glucose challenges. Most of the failed calcium influx responses in β cells were observed in the second and third high glucose challenges, emphasizing the importance of multiple sequential glucose challenges for assessing the full function of islet cells. Human islet cells were also assessed and showed functional α and β cells. This approach to analyze islet responses to multiple glucose challenges in correlation with gene expression assays expands the understanding of β cell function and the diseased state.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Calcium / metabolism*
  • Glucagon-Secreting Cells / metabolism*
  • Glucagon-Secreting Cells / pathology
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / metabolism
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / pathology
  • Islets of Langerhans / metabolism
  • Islets of Langerhans / pathology
  • Mice
  • Single-Cell Analysis


  • Biomarkers
  • Insulin
  • Glucose
  • Calcium